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Questionable/unethical research


Patients with vitiligo treated with anti-fungal drugs by a general practitioner


A letter was submitted for publication in which a general practitioner described how he treated patients with vitiligo “simultaneously with an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial medicament over a prolonged period.”He has done this because:“As is now known,a fungus resembles the human being genetically and there is a possibility that a fungus can hide in the melanocyte (analogically as is being done by the HIV virus) and therefore cannot easily be diagnosed by laboratory means.”The research seem


Uncertain treatment of four patients following previous published experiments


A medically qualifed author submitted a paper in which he described the treatment of four cases of “pesticide poisoning presented as ME.”These four cases had doubtful sounding evidence of pesticide poisoning. The author treated them with a mixture of choline and ascorbic acid.


Unethical research


We have received a study in which patients with healed duodenal ulcers were randomly allocated to treatment with either placebo or ranitidine. Patients were also categorised as to whether they were type A or type B personality; the hypotheses being tested was that patients who were type A might be more likely to relapse. Patients did not have their H pylori status determined.

Subjects were withdrawn from the study if their duodenal ulcer relapsed.


Unethical research undertaken by a single handed GP


We have received a paper from a GP testing the hypotheses that because 24,25 cholecalciferol has a similar structure to commercially available statins, it may act as an inhibitor of HMA co-reductase. He screened 350 patients in his practice and identified 77 who had a cholesterol concentration above 6.5 mmol per litre. Thirty-three of them agreed to return for a second test 2 weeks later.


Not getting consent from an ethics committee


We had provisionally accepted a randomised controlled trial of an exclusion diet given to young children with a particular condition. The trial design was that one group started the exclusion diet a month before the second group. In other words, both were given the “treatment.” One part of the trial was that children who were thought to have an allergy to a particular food were rechallenged with that food.


Informed consent


A group of researchers are conducting a study of whether women aged 65 to 69 years will accept screening for breast cancer. They plan to invite these women for screening in the same way as they invite younger women for screening but will not know that they are part of a research study. The authors want advice on whether journals would be willing to publish their results, despite the fact that the women will not have given informed consent to be part of the study.


A commentary on a piece of (unethical) research


We have received a paper in which the authors have exposed a group of babies to physiologically unnatural circumstances. These circumstances do however arise quite regularly in some peoples’ lives. None of the babies had anything wrong with them, but some of them were siblings of babies who had died.


Living unrelated (commercial) organ transplant


A paper submitted for publication describes a series of children with renal failure who had had kidneys transplanted from commercially acquired donors. The authors of the paper had not carried out the transplants. Indeed, they had been carried out in another country. The authors simply reported what happened to the patients after they returned. The paper, while not of high priority for publication, is acceptable from the scientific point of view. Can it be accepted on ethical grounds?